California Keeps Getting Prettier

The lack of gorgeous pictures may be dissonant with the title of this post but that’s what happens when you have a broken camera and use an iPhone to take pictures.

So that’s my explanation for why my road trip to LA over Thanksgiving, filled with assorted stops in the Golden State, did not result in the beautiful photography that it should have.

Nevertheless, it was another reminder of how much beauty there is in this state (and that I’m so glad Jie finally bought us a new camera). Without further adieu some highlights.

San Luis Obispo

We stopped here for lunch heading down to LA. Situated about halfway between San Francisco and LA, San Luis Obispo is really quite charming, with a compact downtown nestled among the mountains. The town is chock full of cute restaurants, art galleries and the old Spanish mission. It’s also, as we learned, a place to sample some of the great local wines of Central California. Our time here was very short so I hope I can come back for at least a weekend to get a better sense of it.


Nothing like a Thanksgiving morning hike to get the stomach growling for some turkey right. Before we joined my family for a day of feasting, Jie and headed to Pepperdine University to visit what I heard was one of the most beautiful colleges in the country. After sweet talking our way onto campus (it was closed for Thanksgiving), we parked our car and walked up a steep road leading to a dirt trail with views of the ocean below.

In all honesty, while the campus could not be situated in a more scenic location with endless views of the Pacific, I found the campus surprisingly lacking in greenery and not particularly cohesive. Maybe I would feel different if it was buzzing with students.

We did spend a little bit of time exploring Malibu afterwards but we cut that short as Thanksgiving eating beckoned.

Pepperdine University

At Pepperdine with the Pacific Ocean behind me

Santa Monica

The day after Thanksgiving led to an afternoon of casual exploration in Santa Monica, an area I had never been to before. For a city as car-centric as Los Angeles, this represented a pedestrian oasis that just so happens to be right near the beach. Yes, the area near the pier is very touristy but as a tourist in this case I had no complaints. The pier itself was worth a quick stroll and offered, in my opinion, much better views than similar boardwalks I have been to (e.g., Santa Cruz, Long Beach New York). If I make a return trip I will definitely have to ride the Ferris wheel.

Santa Monica Pier

We did not go on the Ferris wheel

End of Route 66

How long would it take me to drive Route 66 in the other direction?

Santa Barbara

The highlight of all of our stops was Santa Barbara, which is also where we happened to spend the most time. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we opted to stay in Santa Barbara rather than spend the night driving back home. It also allowed us to watch the end of the Iron Bowl (I’m still amazed) and the Stanford-Notre Dame game.

We found a reasonable hotel right on the outskirts of downtown and hit the town. I was really taken with it, especially Main Street, which is a long commercial strip from the water leading up to the mountains. The town has  a very California cool feel, with even the local McDonald’s giving off a gourmet vibe with its sleek sign and architecture. After we finished watching football, Jie and I treated ourselves to pizza (another Thanksgiving weekend tradition) and a visit to Stearns Wharf, which is Santa Barbara’s historic pier. We went back the following day for some pictures and to take in the views of the mountain behind us.

We finished our trip with a visit to the historic mission, which was founded in 1786. Unfortunately, it is undergoing renovations but the grounds are beautiful and I was able to learn more about the 21 missions in California that were used to Christianize the local people and help keep order.

Stearns Wharf Santa Barbara

At the Wharf doing some bird watching

Santa Barbara Mission

The Santa Barbara Mission is under construction

Highway 1

This is where the camera would have really come in handy. We took the slower, more scenic drive back to the Bay Area. The stretch from San Luis Obispo to Monterey is particularly beautiful as you hug the coastline for much of the way and drive over gorgeous bridges with the mountains right next to you. This was the first time that I drove this route (previously I had only been a passenger) and it was a thrill. We need to make a return trip soon so I can fill a camera album’s worth of pictures from Carmel, Big Sur and hopefully Hearst Castle.


2 Responses to California Keeps Getting Prettier

  1. Pingback: Carmel Cool | Raw Focus

  2. Pingback: Hearst Castle Road Trip | Raw Focus

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